25 Years After Tiananmen Square, Religious Freedom Remains Elusive In China

A Chinese Paramilitary security force officer stands under a portrait of the late Mao Zedong as others march passed outside the Forbidden City at Tiananmen Square on June 2, 2014 in Beijing, China. (Photo by Kevin Frayer/Getty Images)
A Chinese Paramilitary security force officer stands under a portrait of the late Mao Zedong as others march passed outside the Forbidden City at Tiananmen Square on June 2, 2014 in Beijing, China. (Photo by Kevin Frayer/Getty Images)

Early on the morning of November 28, 2007, Jia Weihan was forced to think the unthinkable: Was her father really a bad man?

At the time, she was an 11-year-old attending a school in Beijing that taught her to respect the communist authorities. When 30 or so police officers arrived to arrest her father, she did not know what to think.

As it turned out, her father, Shi Weihan, the pastor of a house church, was simply trying to live out his religious beliefs. That should be a fundamental right, but in China – even the more economically liberalized China – it’s not.

Twenty-five years after Tiananmen Square – where on June 4, 1989, Chinese soldiers turned their guns on protesting students and activists – freedom remains elusive.

In China, Tibetan Buddhists and Uyghur Muslims face worse conditions than at any time over the past decade, according to a report from the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom.

The report warns that independent Protestants and Catholics face arrests, fines and the closing of their churches. The government recently bulldozed one large church in the city of Wenzhou.

The report also highlights other restrictions, including these problems:

“Practitioners of Falun Gong, as well as other Buddhist, folk religionist, and Protestant groups deemed ‘superstitious’ or ‘evil cults’ face long jail terms, forced denunciations of faith and torture in detention, and the government has not sufficiently answered accusations of psychiatric experimentation and organ harvesting.”

In Shi’s case, he had decided not to tell Jia and her 7-year-old sister, Enmei, that he was printing Bibles and Christian literature. That was against Chinese law, so he did not want to put his children in jeopardy by letting them in on the secret.

Their children soon came to understand the secret, in a life-altering way.

Two years later, in June 2009, their father was sentenced to three years in prison for printing Bibles to meet growing demand. After he was released in February 2011, Shi realized he had to leave his homeland.

Authorities still were following him, so he applied to the Christ for the Nations Institute, an interdenominational college in Dallas. The school accepted him, and soon Shi, who also goes by the Anglicized name of John Stone, was on his way to Texas with his family.

One recent morning in his McKinney home, Shi, 44, explained what happened to him.

When 2008 approached and China was on the verge of hosting the Summer Olympics, the government did not want any messiness. No protests. No marches. No Tiananmen Squares.

That included no outcry over religious freedoms.

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SOURCE: CNN Religion
William McKenzie

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